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Dr. Mohinder Kumar , Sanai struggles with unemployment and poor infrastructure "Daily Excelsior" 13/3/2016

Sanai village in Poonch district is bifurcated into hilly ‘Sanai Upper’ located farther from Surankot road and plain ‘Sanai Lower’ situated on Surankot road. This account pertains to Sanai Upper located at a distance of 5 km from Surankot town and 30 km from Poonch city. Total area of Sanai Upper is 369 acres, of which common land is 6 acres (2%), agricultural land 250 acres (68%) and residential area 112 acres (30%). Average size of holding is uneconomical 0.36 acre that is far less than the state average of 0.68 ha.

Common land in village had vanished after 1970 even as currently only 6 acres of burial ground (‘kabristan’) and a community hall exists. By 1970, entire common land had been encroached and occupied by villagers for residential purpose as population increased. For grass, villagers depend on 150 acres of forest, of which 25 acres is used in social forestry project, with Forest Protection Committee (FPC) of villagers. Project area is covered by enclosure with barbed wire fencing. Grazing cattle in forest is not allowed. Usually under social forestry, some area is left open for access by villagers; hitherto it exists marginally on the infringement of enclosure along road side which is insufficient to support large number of livestock/small ruminants. Social forestry helps save forests but it doesn’t solve the problem of pasture for bakarwals’ livelihoods.

Sanai Upper with small area but large population of 6000 persons in 700 households is scattered in 10 wards. All households are Muslims -Gurjar bakarwals 40%(Scheduled Tribe) and Sayyed Pahari 60% (non-ST). Gurjar bakarwals live on cattle and Sayyed Pahari households survive on farming. Gurjars face huge problem of access to pasture land. Entire village has 10 goats. Goats and sheep generally like to graze in open fields/ common land/ jungle pastures which are non-existing in Sanai Upper. Since entry in forest enclosure for grazing is not permitted under social forestry project, Gujjar-bakarwals could not rear small ruminants (sheep-goats); they own 1-2 cows/buffaloes per household. Where jungle-pastures are not accessible, Gujjars graze their small ruminants on roadside grass. This indicates threat to their way of life and survival on small ruminants based economy. Sheep like to graze on pastures and open grasslands while goats feed on small bushes and tree leaves. Gurjar households’ main requirement is grassland. They are not fully nomadic pastoral; they’ve become semi-settled marginal farmers doing household dairy.

All households speak Pahari language. Literacy rate is 50% though improving. Mutual relations between villagers are good. Status of women in family is based on equality and freedom of enterprise. Women work on family farm even as men have adopted wage-wanderer life style based on casual labor. All farm households cultivate maize and wheat -for family subsistence. However, maize in fields attracts wild bear which attacks village people; it is a common phenomenon. Bear and villagers consider each other as menace for survival. Forests are shrinking and trees have been cut on massive scale during past two-three decades in J&K, which has threatened the abode and existence of wild bear as these predators diverted their way towards attacking human habitats and maize fields. Sanai Upper bears most the brunt of forest bear.

Villagers’ subsistence is based on farming for 3-4 months. For 8-9 months they depend on buying food-grains from open market. Monthly ration store supply suffices for 10-15 days. Their survival is continued under precarious conditions of the market, uncertainty and scarcities. Villagers expect three facilities from Gram Panchayat: (i) Ration Card; (ii) Kisan Credit Card (KCC); and (iii) MNREGA Job Card. All households got ration card. However, as perCensus-2011, additional 200 new ration cards are required. Villagers want that ration cards should be prepared each year as new households are created by apportionment. It is ironic that petty individualism of separated and apportioned households struggling for survival in the social realm is expected to be taken care of by political state. One must read Frederic Engels’ “Origin of Family, Private Property and the State”. KCC forms were submitted by 90% farm households. However, loan was sanctioned to 10-15% farmers. Complete awareness about MNREGA was created three-four years ago. As a result, there were 600 job card holders in Sanai Upper (each household has one). Even with poor planning, jobs are provided to 500 card holders for 60-65 days instead of mandatory 100 days. MNREGA wage labor has helped in the physical survival of Sanai.

Village has 1500 youths, mostly educated. Education reflects differentiated state of village society. Some youths are highly educated and concentrated in few households, yet some are illiterate. A few youths are post-graduate with B.Ed. degree and “over age” for government service. Around 70% youths (including educated) are wage-laborers. Most of them work under MNREGA. Around 300 youths have migrated to Punjab, other States and cities. “Mates” (Labor Contractors) take local youths for wage-labor to Surankot, Poonch, etc.; MNREGA has checked migration of youths. Only 10% youths are employed in government service. The rest are wagers.

Farmers in Sanai Upper buy seeds from Block Agriculture Office at Surankot, without subsidy. Department held awareness camps and exhibitions of different varieties of seeds, including vegetable seeds. But farmers prefer maize for subsistence. PMGSY scheme has been aborted for the past 10-12 years. However, Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) is implemented. There is no dispensary or private doctor clinic though village has access to four medicine shops in Sanai Lower located on link road. Village has 15-20 grocery shops and more number of shops are coming up for self-employment as it is popular occupation of village youths. Village has one ration store. Transport connectivity is good beyond Sanai Lower, well connected with Poonch and Surankot. Village has three schools (common with Sanai Lower), one of which is situated on Poonch-Surankot road. The main requirement of households of Sanai Upper is universal access to bank financing. Over 500 households are afflicted with financial exclusion.

The major problem of village is forest bear. The surrounding forest area of village has 3-4 bears, which cause damage to maize crop in fields situated near forest. Even farms situated near main road/bazaar are attacked. Fortunately no person from village was injured by bear attacks. Forest bears are mainly located in forest area of nearby Chhamber village. Often bear kills buffalo and carries it on back to the forest interior. Bear also injured 3-4 buffaloes in neighboring Hari and Gudda villages. Children are particularly subject to fear of probable bear attack. There is no coping mechanism for safety; State Government offers compensation of Rs. one-two lakh for the injured and three lakh for victims of death due to attack by forest bear. Forest Department does not have expertise in catching forest bear in village area. Though Wildlife and Forest Conservator experts have expertise, it is rarely used.

In Upper Sanai, people equate wage employment with self-employment. For them MNREGA wage-labor is same thing as own economic activity. Villagers suggested the following economic activities having scope for development: (i) wage employment under MNREGA by increasing wage rate; (ii) soap factory (by importing basic raw material from Jammu); (iii) public sector units of any type where government and banks should contribute 80% equity and villagers 20%, since “people were attracted by subsidy”; (iv) food processing industry; (v) vegetable cultivation; and (vi) cooperative or producers’ company of farmers.

Link-road connecting Upper Sanai with Lower Sanai was started in 2001 under PMGSY. However, road work is still uncompleted. Project got delayed because work is stopped since 2011. Villagers face difficulties without pucca road; ongoing uncompleted work has created more hassles, particularly for vehicle movement as the road is not motorable. Two culverts and few “dangas” (side protection walls) were constructed. Worried villagers wonder without being unable to understand why work is stopped? The fact is, as in case of four village roads of Karmara in Poonch district or Dhargloon in same district: Profit motive of private contractors drives road projects. Completing road work by laying macadam is not profitable as it involves adhering to five years repair & maintenance clause under PMGSY, which contractors normally try to evade by protracting the work or delaying it, since part payment is made in advance from which they make good profits by completing initial portions such as ground level earth work, culvert, protection wall, etc. Villagers keep complaining in vain to the authorities though actual reason of delay is unknown to them.

Villagers demand separate electric line for Sanai Upper from Lassana power sub-station. They desire that lines of Sanai and Marhot villages should be separated. Fault in composite line (Sanai and Marhot) cannot be located. Flat rate system (Rs.360 per month) of billing is applicable based on assumption of 500 Watts load per household. A majority of the households do not use that much energy; they are not provided with electric meters. So, they are at disadvantage to pay fixed amount and incur loss of around Rs.300 per month; few households where electric meters are installed pay as per use, i.e. sometimes Rs.50/- per month. Electric meters were installed by PDD in 2013 in only two Wards (60-70 households) even as 90% households are without electric meter. Villagers’ demand is justified and genuine because none of the households is engaged in theft of electricity. Moreover, power supply is restricted to 2-3 hours per day in winter and summer. Households individually submitted applications to PDD against injustice caused by non-installation of meter. But there was general insensitivity to their pleading. A villager thus gave his account of plight. He submitted his application to JE after getting duly stamped and approved by Sarpanch. JE told that electric meter cannot be installed now though he got application marked from EE and gave it to Lineman of Sanai. When villagers asked Lineman about application/meter in June 2013, he said he did not have application! Sarpanch expressed that there is no chance of all households taking collective action against injustice. Villagers want that only such amount of money should be charged as was equivalent to power consumed. Over 65% households are BPL who cannot take excessive and unjust burden of electricity bills.

(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)

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